Profile: Bishop of Liverpool, the Right Reverend James Jones

The Rt Rev James Jones, Bishop of Liverpool The Right Reverend James Jones is the latest in a string of high-profile bishops of Liverpool

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As the families of the 96 people who died as a result of the Hillsborough disaster come to terms with the independent panel's report, and politicians pore through the implications, BBC Religion and Ethics takes a closer look at the Anglican leader who chaired the panel.

The Bishop of Liverpool, the Right Reverend James Jones, is the latest in a long line of high-profile church leaders in Liverpool, a city which 100 years ago was riven by sectarianism but which is now witness to the so-called Mersey Miracle of ecumenism.

The former Bishop of Hull came to Merseyside in 1998 with a reputation as an advocate of evangelism, but in 2012 he cannot be pigeon-holed so easily.

Bishop Jones has been a hands-on champion for urban regeneration and has developed a passion for the environment.

In 2011 he chaired the independent Forestry Panel which called for England's woods and forests to be reassessed and revalued. It led to the government's decision in July 2012 not to sell off the country's publicly owned forests and woodlands.

Gay movement

A published author, his book "Jesus and the Earth" is his interpretation of what the Gospels can teach Christians about the environment and sustainability.

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I am confident that the Panel has the skills, experience and support it needs to be successful in the challenging tasks it faces”

End Quote Bishop James Jones Anglican Bishop of Liverpool

He has occasionally been involved in controversy and at different times the bishop has alienated liberals and conservatives within the church. But he has not been afraid to modify his views and weather the ensuing storms.

In 2004, he was a vocal opponent of the attempt to appoint Canon Jeffrey John as the Bishop of Reading because of his advocacy of the gay and lesbian movement within the church. However, Bishop Jones later apologised and adopted a more conciliatory attitude, much to the chagrin of many traditionalists.

A former television producer, Bishop Jones is a skilled media performer and a regular contributor to BBC Radio 4's Thought for the Day. In January, he presented a three-part radio series, The Bishop and the Prisoner, in which he spoke to inmates, politicians and experts about whether prisons really work.

In 2003 he was ranked in church circles as a candidate for the post of Archbishop of Canterbury, which ultimately went to Rowan Williams, and today he is seen by some as outsider to succeed the man who beat him at the final hurdle. A decision on the next archbishop is expected later this month.

He would have been seen as a natural fit by the former Labour Home Secretary Alan Johnson to chair the independent panel investigating the Hillsborough tragedy as someone who is trusted by both the relatives of the deceased and by the political establishment - of whom he is a shrewd observer and player.

Tortuous journey

Bishop Jones, who underwent a heart bypass operation in 2011, and his team of experts were tasked with delving deeper than ever into the events leading up to the tragedy on 15 April 1989, which led to the worst sports-related disaster in UK history.

He welcomed the opportunity and at the time said: "I am confident that the panel has the skills, experience and support it needs to be successful in the challenging tasks it faces."

There is still a palpable feeling of injustice among the Hillsborough families and in the wider Merseyside community, as witnessed by the thousands of people who attend the annual memorial service at Anfield.

The panel's investigation follows years of inquiries and appeals which have left families and campaigners frustrated and angry for what they see as, at best, unanswered questions and, at worst, cover-ups by the authorities.

The 64-year-old bishop will have had to use all of his powers of diplomacy to persuade doubters that the panel's report really is the last chapter in a long, and at times tortuous, journey for the families and friends of the 96 Liverpool supporters who lost their lives as a result of the FA Cup semi-final in Sheffield 23 years ago.

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